The QUAD has materialised into the international arena only in the last few years. The member countries namely India, Japan, United States and Australia are partners in a common platform of protecting freedom of navigation and promoting democratic values in the Indo – Pacific region. Against this backdrop, Ananta Aspen Centre supported by The Nippon Foundation held a digital session on “An Indo-Pacific Axis: Future of QUAD and Maritime Cooperation in the East” with Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi, Professor, Keio University Graduate School of System Design and Management and Special Advisor to President ABE, Shinzo’s Cabinet, Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan chair, CSIS, Director of Asian Studies, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University and C. Raja Mohan, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. This session was chaired by Ambassador Gautam Bambawale, former Ambassador to Bhutan & China & High Commissioner to Pakistan, Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre.

The idea of QUAD has its seed sown by the former Japanese President Shinzo Abe as well as the Bush administration in the US. It started out as a way for rearranging the architecture of Asia particularly looking from a maritime perspective. But recently with China’s international behaviour becoming aggressive and decreasing power differential between the US and China, the importance of QUAD has gained importance with even the Former Secretary of State hinting to the media about institutionalising QUAD. In the last few months we have seen cooperation and coordination strengthened among member nations of the QUAD. Even during the pandemic the members met in Tokyo. The Malabar Exercise in 2020 saw Australia being invited into the fold and one of the first manifestations of four way cooperation between its members.

The four member nations of QUAD hold significant reasons for their membership in this security alliance partly due to growing Chinese hegemony in the Indo – Pacific region but also due to their own vested interests in the region. It was the coming together of like-minded ideas. Maritime Security has become a big point of collaboration among these nations because it forms a big basis of the QUAD Security alliance. There is a strong inclination to institutionalise QUAD in terms of maritime security by way of a standing naval taskforce since it’s the most important aspect of this alliance. Even intelligence holds for initiating cooperation among its member countries. For institutionalization to work it is important to develop the habit of cooperation, habit of discussion and the habit of exchange of ideas more often then what is happening at present. Summits should become more regular as it would send a powerful signal to our giant neighbour.

Now the case of China has given the alliance members a formidable opponent in the Indo Pacific as it is in its quest to gain hegemony in the area. China has continued to mount incursions into islands in the East and South China seas as well as pursued wolf warrior policy. It has become aggressive in the South China Sea, Taiwanese strait, around the Senkaku Islands, frontier with India and its relationship with Australia. It is in this context that QUAD has gained relevance and support across the world. There is growing European interest in the Indo Pacific with Germany and the Netherlands announcing their Indo – Pacific strategy. France has also appointed an Indo-Pacific Ambassador and UK will also likely announce some kind of strategy or approach paper for the region. Countries like Canada, New Zealand and even South Korea is interested to play some role in the Indo– Pacific.

It has long been suggested that the Indian Ocean is the future. It is going to be the industrial corridor for the 21st century. Indian resources are critical to shaping the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific; hence it has emerged as a big power player in the region. The Indian understanding of the QUAD is about India and putting it on the map in the Pacific. The past UPA governments were hesitant but the Modi government has demonstrated confidence for the benefit of itself and has actively participated in QUAD related activities. The country also has fractured relations with China due to the frequent border. Therefore it is clear that India holds a key role in countering Chinese aggression in Asia and is an essential part in the coming together of the idea of a unified opposition to any hegemony in the Indo – Pacific region.

There is interest in the institutionalization of the QUAD but as the situation in the area develops and the alliance itself is quite young comparably there is still lots to discuss. QUAD plus would be a good idea with 4 members being central organising group around which there should be consideration about widening the circle of engagement especially with regard to South East Asia. There should be a framework which allows for engagement with other actors who seek to play a role in the region as demonstrated by nations who are actively proposing their position for the area. An Important thing to note is that the QUAD has to exist with the assumption that ASEAN will never have solidarity or consensus and will always be picked apart. In that situation the QUAD can provide stabilising diplomacy and maritime security around ASEAN to make it possible for ASEAN countries to resists Chinese aggression.

It has been debated on what fronts QUAD members should be engaging with each other. As with other international alliances security and trade come to mind. The first point of collaboration on security is quite evident due to the Alliance’s creation in the name of geo – strategy. It is in trade and economics where things become complicated. China not only serves as biggest trade partners for three of the four QUAD nations but they have also not devised an alternative to Chinese market power. Hence traditional economic agreements are not what QUAD nations are trying to achieve at present. Though this could certainly evolve with changes in the future Chinese Economic trajectory and as India competes with China in supply chain.

As these paths of collaboration and cooperation evolve, QUAD should look at Maritime services driving its agenda. This was pushed forward in the past because all four countries are in total agreement in what they will not tolerate which is Chinese hegemonic ambitions over the maritime domain. Humanitarian disaster relief, joint operation, under-sea warfare, air defence, high-end joint operation, technological security and changes in the energy sector due to climate change are the next avenues for collaboration among the members. These would provide the nations to build a repertoire of working in the area together and will surely add to any future formal partnership and would signal to a united front in the region.

This digital session was a part of a series on “India-Japan Partnership Perspectives”

Please watch the full session on YouTube:

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